Ordeal by Innocenceby Agatha Christie
According to the courts, Jacko Argyle bludgeoned his mother to death with a poker. The sentence was life imprisonment. But when Dr. Arthur Calgary arrives with the proof that confirms Jacko’s innocence, it is too late—Jacko died behind bars following a bout of pneumonia. Worse still, the doctor’s revelations reopen old wounds in the family,… See more details below
According to the courts, Jacko Argyle bludgeoned his mother to death with a poker. The sentence was life imprisonment. But when Dr. Arthur Calgary arrives with the proof that confirms Jacko’s innocence, it is too late—Jacko died behind bars following a bout of pneumonia. Worse still, the doctor’s revelations reopen old wounds in the family, increasing the likelihood that the real murderer will strike again.
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It was dusk when he came to the Ferry.
He could have been there much earlier. The truth was, he had put it off as long as he could.
First his luncheon with friends in Redquay; the light desultory conversation, the interchange of gossip about mutual friends -- all that had meant only that he was inwardly shrinking from what he had to do. His friends had invited him to stay on for tea and he had accepted. But at last the time had come when he knew that he could put things off no longer.
The car he had hired was waiting. He said good-bye and left to drive the seven miles along the crowded coast road and then inland down the wooded lane that ended at the little stone quay on the river.
There was a large bell there which his driver rang vigorously to summon the ferry from the far side.
"You won't be wanting me to wait, sir?"
"No," said Arthur Calgary. "I've ordered a car to meet me over there in an hour's time --to take me to Drymouth."
The man received his fare and tip. He said, peering across the river in the gloom:
"Ferry's coming now, sir."
With a soft-spoken good night he reversed the car and drove away up the hill. Arthur Calgary was left alone waiting on the quayside. Alone with his thoughts and his apprehension of what was in front of him. How wild the scenery was here, he thought. One could fancy oneself on a Scottish loch, far from anywhere. And yet, only a few miles away, were the hotels, the shops, the cocktail bars and the crowds of Redquay. He reflected, not for the first time, on the extraordinary contrasts of the English landscape.
He heard the soft plash of the oars asthe ferry boat drew in to the side of the little quay. Arthur Calgary walked down the sloping ramp and got into the boat as the ferryman steadied it with a boathook. He was an old man and gave Calgary the fanciful impression that he and his boat belonged together, were one and indivisible.
A little cold wind came rustling up from the sea as they pushed off.
"'Tis chilly this evening," said the ferryman.
Calgary replied suitably. He further agreed that it was colder than yesterday.
He was conscious, or thought he was conscious, of a veiled curiosity in the ferryman's eyes. Here was a stranger. And a stranger after the close of the tourist season proper. Moreover, this stranger was crossing at an unusual hour -- too late for tea at the caf&233 by the pier. He had no luggage so he could not be coming to stay. (Why, Calgary wondered, had he come so late in the day? Was it really because, subconsciously, he had been putting this moment off? Leaving as late as possible, the thing that had to be done?) Crossing the Rubicon -- the river . . . The river. . . his mind went back to that other river -- the Thames.
He had stared at it unseeingly (was it only Yesterday?) then turned to look again at the man facing him across the table. Those thoughtful eyes with something in them that he had not quite been able to understand. A reserve, something that was being thought but not expressed. . . .
"I suppose," he thought, "they learn never to show what they are thinking."
The whole thing was pretty frightful when one came right down to it. He must do what had to be done -- and after that -- forget!
He frowned as he remembered the conversation yesterday. That pleasant, quiet, noncommittal voice, saying:
"You're, quite determined on your course of action, Dr. Calgary?"
He had answered, hotly:
"What else can I do? Surely you see that? You must agree? It's a thing I can't possibly shirk."
But he hadn't understood the look in those withdrawn grey eyes, and had been faintly perplexed by the answer.
"One has to look all around a subject -- consider it from all aspects."
"Surely there can be only one aspect from the point of view of justice?"
He had spoken hotly, thinking for a moment that this was an ignoble suggestion of "hushing up" the matter.
"In a way, yes. But there's more to it than that, you know. More than -- shall we say -- justice?"
"I don't agree. There's the family to consider."
And the other had said quickly: "Quite -- oh, yes -- quite. I was thinking of them."
Which seemed to Calgary nonsense! Because if one were thinking of them --
But immediately the other man had said, his pleasant voice unchanged:
"It's entirely up to you, Dr. Calgary. You must, of course,do exactly as you feel you have to do."
The boat grounded on the beach. He had crossed the Rubicon.
The ferryman's soft West Country voice said:
"That will be fourpence, sir, or do you want a return ?"
"No," Calgary said. "There will be no return" (How fateful the words sounded!)
He paid. Then he asked:
"Do you know a house called Sunny Point?"
Immediately the curiosity ceased to be veiled. The interest in the old man's eyes leaped up avidly.
"Why, surely. 'Tis there, up along to your right -- you can just see it through them trees. You go up the hill and along the road to the right, and then take the new road through the building estate. 'Tis the last house -- at the very end."
"You did say Sunny Point, sir? Where Mrs. Argyle --"
"Yes, yes --" Calgary cut him short. He didn't want to discuss the matter. "Sunny Point."
A slow and rather peculiar smile twisted the ferryman's lips. He looked suddenly like an ancient sly faun."It was her called the house that -- in the war.
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